Photo Flashback – Our Road-trip to the Midwest

Seth and I road tripped it out to the Midwest!…back in August. This is a look back at our drive to Champaign. We left Portland on August 11th in separate cars. We packed everything we could into our cars, left somethings with our parents, and threw some stuff out. I sort of regret that last part. Especially throwing out my knife set.

Our route took us through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. I tracked the total time and it took us about 42 hours, including stops, to get to our destination. Doing about 12 hours a day, we arrived in Champaign on August 15th.  We were able to make some fun stops everyday and that made the trip a lot more enjoyable. Also, Seth’s dad and step-mom got us walkie-talkies which I really recommend to anyone who is travelling in separate cars. 

Oregon

Our first stop was at froyo in Beaverton. I didn’t take a photo at this point since it was only 10 minutes after we left our apartment. But it was one of my favorite stops. And now I am missing froyo. Froyo here is outrageously expensive. It is 49 cents and ounce! I miss froyo.

Anyways, here we are in Baker City, Orego at a Mexican restaurant. We got into Baker pretty late and luckily this place was still open! However, something was up with the water and they only had bottled water. For a charge. But we were hungry and happy to be eating.

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Idaho

The first night of the trip we stayed in Boise, Idaho. We found a pretty good deal on Hot Wire which lead us to the downtown Red Lion. We arrived around 1am and were pooped! Since we got there so late we slept in and had breakfast at some little diner down the road.

This us after our breakfast at some place in Idaho. We didn't really stop anywhere interesting for a photo in Idaho.

This us after our breakfast at some place in Idaho. We didn’t really stop anywhere interesting for a photo in Idaho

Wyoming 

Unfortunately since we got on the road late in Idaho we got to Jacksonhole late as well. We got to Jacksonhole in the evening, around 7pm or so. We were really excited to see Jennifer and Trevor! They took us out to see some wildlife and check out the town. We did see really interesting animals but I forgot to bring my camera with me so wasn’t able to take any photos. After that we went to Thai Me Up where Jennifer used to work for some delicious curry! The town was really cute and hopefully Seth and I can make it back for a visit sometime.

Jennifer and Trevor in Jacksonhole

Jennifer and Trevor in Jacksonhole

View from their apartment

View from their apartment

Seth and I in Jacksonhole

 

Yellowstone

Trevor helped us to plan a route up to Yellowstone from Jackson. We planned to drive into the park, see Old Faithful, then drive around the loop and out towards South Dakota. This did not happen. Turns out Yellowstone is huge!!!!! It took us two hours to get to Yellowstone, and then almost two more hours to get to see Old Faithful. The park is so big and also you can’t drive very fast so that adds extra time. We wanted to see more but were too nervous about being on the road for longer. I get really tired when it gets dark so I was extra nervous about having to drive late into the night.

We did get to see Old Faithful and have lunch. It was pretty cool, although does happen pretty quick. There is a big wait and then BOOM! Then its over.

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Hopefully we can go back one day and stay and camp.

South Dakota

aka the Tourism State. There are so many tourist attracts in South Dakota. And maybe nothing else. Some of the attractions we saw advertised were a Flintstone exhibit and dinosaur garden. Seth really wanted to go to the Flintstone one to try out the food but it wasn’t open when we drove by. We did go to see the presidents though.

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Iowa

After South Dakota we drove through Iowa. Hmmm… I don’t remember much about this part. Also I don’t think I took any photos, which I regret because I wanted to get a photo in every state. Well anyways I’ll post this photo from Idaho. We stopped somewhere that was a gas station/casino. We went in a tried our luck and came out $5 richer! I could not stand all the cigarettes in there though. It was a tiny casino and almost everybody was smoking. But money is money.

$$$$$

$$$$$

Illinois

We made it! Illinois was a sea of corn fields. And now that sea is our home. For a little while.

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This was in Wyoming. We didn’t see any bears thankfully

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The Quest to Find Research

So as a PhD student the majority of my time will dedicated towards research. Research allows students to produce a thesis and graduate. The research should be groundbreaking, interesting and in the realm of computer science since that is my area. Of course that is a bit overwhelming since I’m not exactly sure how to do all that. I’ve done some research before in undergrad but haven’t come up with my own project. And the idea that it has to be something no-one else has thought of before is also challenging.

I have some ideas for what field I would like to do research in, but don’t have a focus yet. I would like to do some research in technology for people with disabilities. I would really like to use computer science in a manner that helps people. To get started I met with my graduate advisor and discussed my general ideas for research areas. He suggested I take an independent study course with him this semester so that I can explore different research options available on campus. He’s helped me to set up different meetings with various people on campus and they’ve been really interesting to talk to!

One day I was talking to a fellow first year about my research interests and ideas and he mentioned that he had a friend on campus who is currently doing work with prosthetics and maybe could help me get started. He helped us to get connected and after that I met up with his friend, Aadeel. Aadel is a M.D./Ph.D. Student in the Electrical & Computer Engineering department and Medical Scholars Program. He gave me a tour of his group’s labs and an overview of some of the research they are currently doing. He is a cool clip of a past research project he was involved in, Playing Checkers with Your Mind: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spIVPw7XbCs It is pretty awesome!

Now he is more focused on getting sensation back to patients and also allowing them to have a sense of where their arm is. I guess currently prosthetic users have to look at their arm to know where it is in relation to their body, so it’s not that practical. I’m interested in doing research in that area as well so hopefully that works out! Here is a link to an awesome Ted talk that is closely related to this research: http://on.ted.com/tQOx (Ted talks are awesome so I recommend watching it.

After meeting with Aadeel I contacted his advisor and told him about my interests and he suggested I work with someone in his group to get a feel for doing research and to see how I like it. He connected me with Jamie. Jamie told me about one of his projects he worked on with someone else last year, a mind controlled robotic car. Basically the user wears an EEG cap which can monitor brain activity, then by focusing their attention on one of two lights they can direct the robot car to go left or right. He and his partner wrote a paper on it and now would like to push this paper to journal. So he thought I could help with that. I’m meeting with him to get started on assisting! I’m very excited to get some research experience and to learn from Jamie. Also I think this is a great opportunity because it is an already established project, and it is really neat! Here is a video demonstrating: http://people.ae.illinois.edu/tbretl/docs/vids/Akce2012.mp4

So that is sort of where I’m at now. I know there are a lot of videos in this post but if you are interested in science/technology then watch them! I found them really interesting 🙂

Exploring the town!

Seth and I have gone to a few local activities around Urbana-Champaign. When we first got here they were having their annual Sweet Corn festival. There is so much corn here! Tons and tons of corn fields. No wonder there is a festival to celebrate. We didn’t actually get any corn but I did enjoy some delicious ice cream while the rest of the crowd adjusted their wigs.

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And I felt bad for the poor ponies. It was so hot that day! You can just see how much they are enjoying their job.

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We also went to Quad day at the school. That is sort of like PioFair where all the groups and organizations have a booth and try to get you to join. There are hundreds of groups!! I guess with 40,000 students there are a lot of interests. We walked around for almost 2 hours and saw a lot of them. Seth pretended to be a student too and signed up for a few things. He saw an opportunity to get a free t-shirt so he couldn’t let that pass him by…

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He is so proud!

It was really neat to see so many people passionate about so many different things. Here is a shot of some of the groups:

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Back to class

Now I am officially back in class. This is week 3 of school. I missed most of the 1st week to go back to Portland for Jet’aime and Othel’s wedding. Then I spent week 2 trying to catch up and now week 3 I’m getting into the swing of everything. So here is a little bit about the classes I’m taking:

1.  Software Engineering I

This is by far the biggest class I’ve ever taken. There are 240 students enrolled in the course this semester. It is crazy! Most don’t attend, but there are still a large number. The lectures are Tuesday and Thursdays for an hour and 15 minutes and are video recorded so you really don’t have to go to class. The basic overview of the course will be covering different methods for software development (the process developers follow to create new or update existing software) such as waterfall, eXtreme, rapid and so on. We will be working in groups to practice the eXtreme programming technique. We don’t know exactly what the project will be, we find out later on in the semester. Before then we have smaller programming assignments and we are working with a partner on those. A good portion of the course so far has been review from what I learned in my Software Development course at Lewis & Clark and just from working at Columbia.

 

2.  Socio-Computing

I missed the first week of this class so I didn’t get a great grasp of what the course will be about but I think now I’ve gotten it. This class is much smaller, just around 40 students I think.  So far we have been looking at user interface design for different applications. We have been looking at different processes to create the designs and challenges designers face during creation. The most exciting part of this course is the class project. We are going to be working in groups to develop a social mobile app (think twitter, match, tinder, facebook, pintrest). I’m really excited about this because I haven’t done any mobile programming yet. My group seems pretty cool so I’m looking forward to getting started!

 

3.  PhD Seminar

This is a required 1 credit course for 1st year PhD students. The purpose of this course is sort of a semester long orientation. Different speakers will come to talk to us about different aspects of the program and give the students a chance to ask questions. This week the head of the Computer Science Department did a Q&A. It was pretty interesting. Next week will be a graduate student panel Q&A. 

 

4.  Independent Study

My last class is an independent study with my advisor. All PhD students choose/are assigned an advisor who they will do their research work with over the course of their study. My advisor is not in my research interest field, but he is excited about my research ideas and I’m looking forward to work with him. During my independent study I will be exploring different research options, seeing what is currently going on on campus, and identifying resources on campus. Hopefully through this I’ll figure out what my research will be.

Welcome to grad school!

Yay! I’m back in school. I’m at first year Computer Science PhD student at University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. It is a huge school!! Lewis & Clark was about 1800 students I think when I was there, University of Illinois has 40,000 undergraduates and around 6,000 graduate students. It is big! That was my first impression! The campus is about 8 miles long so it can be a long walk to get to somewhere. Luckily all my classes are in one building.

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This is my building! The Siebel Center for Computer Science. It was donated by an alum and built in 2004. It is a really nice building and also really big!

I’m taking three classes: Software Engineering, Socio Computing, and an independent study. So far they are good. It is a lot of group work and reading which is different than my undergraduate cs experience. Anyways, I’ll post more specifics about my classes later.

So far everything is going well. I’m getting back into the swing of school. I’m hoping this blog will let everyone who is interested know what I’m up to and also to give future grad students an idea of what to expect.